The biggest obstacle to law enforcement and criminal justice reform is willful disinformation campaigns led by many in the law enforcement community.
Americans have become all too familiar with the campaigns hidden behind slogans such as All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. While the slogans themselves bear some truth, the sole purpose behind the creation of those campaigns is to counter the message of Black Lives Matter using racism, dog whistles, and blatant disinformation.
To be clear, Black Lives Matter (BLM), is a movement that was created to bring attention to the murder of Black men at the hands of the law enforcement apparatus in the United States. It’s a simple message. Speaking to the (mostly white) folks behind the counter-movements, however, would have you believe that BLM is a terrorist organization.
The supporters of these counter-movements, including law enforcement officers and federal agents, use antagonizing rhetoric to discount the fact-based claims of BLM. Some have gone so far as to promote egregious lies and statistics that are untruthful and labeling activists who speak out on police brutality as Black Identity Extremists — a term the FBI has since abandoned in favor of using the “racially motivated violent extremism” category, which is just as problematic.
The FBI’s strategy titled “Iron Fist” is not just cryptic in name but in its implementation. Leaked documents show the FBI intends to use infiltration and undercover techniques to mitigate threats posed by black extremist groups. These black extremist groups are defined in a section of the FBI documents titled “Key Domain Entities” as: “Likely to target civilian and government entities that are perceived as oppressors, including, but not limited to, law enforcement officers, the U.S. government, members of rival BSE [Black Supremacist Extremists] groups, and individuals based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion.”
As the FBI downplayed the threat of white supremacist groups, they projected the language used to describe the well-known domestic terrorists onto anti-police brutality activists in an attempt to silence opposition to police policies and procedures. These strategies are based on false narratives employed against BLM activists by the leaders of police groups, echoed by members of the law enforcement community, and parroted by its supporters.
How We Got Here
Despite the incontrovertible truth disputing the attacks on police narrative, the conversation in the United States has been dominated by hateful rhetoric and disinformation campaigns led by those assigned to positions of power and influence over the law enforcement community. These positions of power are largely made up of the leadership behind the largest police groups in the nation and they harbor influence over legislation via their collective lobbying power.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the largest of the law enforcement groups boasting a membership of nearly 350,000, has opinions on everything from topics related to law enforcement to the impeachment of Donald Trump to unrelated comments made by elected officials. Their commentary lays the groundwork for the presentation of false narratives. As they pitch these ideas to state and federal lawmakers, the public remains largely unaware of the conversations that are being had.
“Absolutely, 100 percent we are under attack.” — Joe Gamaldi
Joe Gamaldi has been one of the loudest voices of the past several years. As president of the Houston Police Officer’s Union (HPOU is a chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police), he has taken the “war on cops” rhetoric to a new level. Gamaldi has found a voice in escalating the use of divisive language directed at citizens and activists alike.
Gamaldi is a highly celebrated obstacle to the reforms anti-police brutality activists seek. In fact, he was recently promoted to the position of vice president of the national Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) shortly after speaking out against activists in a provocative manner. His language portrayed activists as putting “targets on officers’ backs.” But the case he was angry about was exposed as a massive police corruption scandal. One which ended in a botched no-knock raid that killed two innocent people and left five officers wounded in Houston, TX.
As is common with many officers in America, Gamaldi’s story is an interesting one because it highlights certain freedoms that allow officers to keep working despite previous misconduct cases. It’s one of the major issues among voices for criminal justice and law enforcement reform, with very good reason. It creates an environment where accountability becomes a non-factor in how officers conduct themselves.
While at the NYPD, Gamaldi and his partner were accused of police brutality and racism against a suspect in the Brooklyn area. The case, which was eventually dismissed, argued that not only were the suspect’s civil rights violated but that the use of the n-word was directed at the victim multiple times as he was beaten. It appears that shortly after Gamaldi resigned from his position at the NYPD, he joined the Houston Police Department. There, he became the assistant vice president of the HPOU almost immediately. What’s interesting here is that his past doesn’t raise any flags with other agencies; certainly not with the union crowd.
Instances permitting officers accused of misconduct to move on from one city to another has become commonplace in America. It’s a method put in place by police union contracts that allow cops to skirt repercussions while maintaining their careers and protecting their pensions. Many times, however, cops don’t have to travel far for a new job. Typically, they move on to the next city or county without incident or much fanfare. The reason this continues to happen is that officers’ misconduct records are often kept hidden. Police union contracts also contain language protecting corrupt officers’ records from being exposed during a potential new hire.
While Gamaldi and others continue to push the narrative that there is a war on cops, the facts dictate otherwise. Studies also indicate that police misconduct spreads like a contagion and given the history of policing in America, the normalization of racist policies has also spread throughout departments as well. This is a huge issue of contention with leaders in the law enforcement community who argue otherwise.
But the evidence of racism in law enforcement is not hard to find. The use of policies such as stop and frisk and racial profiling is still very problematic among other similar policies.
The facts behind police deaths sharply contradict Gamaldi’s baseless claims of hundreds of officers being targeted on the job. It’s also worth noting that his rhetoric also contradicts that of his boss, Chuck Canterbury, at the Fraternal Order of Police. In May, the FBI released a statistical report titled, “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2018.” For the record, these are the same numbers Canterbury uses in press releases. Gamaldi however, does not.
In the FBI’s report, it points out, “106 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2018. Of these, 55 officers died as a result of felonious acts, and 51 officers died in accidents.” The in-depth report gets very detailed by offering the racial profiles of officers killed and much more. For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on the false narrative promoted by Gamaldi.
Of the 55 officers killed as a result of felonious acts:
23 died as a result of investigative or enforcement activities
- 8 were performing investigative activities
- 6 were involved in tactical situations
- 3 were interacting with wanted person
- 3 were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances
- 2 were conducting traffic violation stops
- 1 was handling a person with mental illness
11 were ambushed (entrapment/premeditation)
- 6 were involved in pursuits
- 4 were involved in foot pursuits
- 2 were involved in vehicular pursuits
4 were responding to crimes in progress
- 2 were burglaries in progress
- 1 was a report of a person with a firearm
- 1 was reported in the category of other crimes against property.
3 were involved in arrest situations and were attempting to control/handcuff/restrain the offender(s) during the arrest situations
2 were on administrative assignments and were performing prisoner transports
2 were assisting other law enforcement officers with foot pursuits
2 were responding to disorders or disturbances
- 1 was responding to a disturbance call
- 1 was responding to a domestic violence call
1 was performing traffic control
1 was involved in an unprovoked attack
Of the 51 officers accidentally killed as a result of accidents:
34 died as a result of motor vehicle crashes
- 29 while operating cars, SUVs, trucks, or vans
- 5 while operating ATVs or motorcycles
9 were pedestrian officers struck by vehicles
3 officers drowned
2 were killed in firearm-related incidents
1 officer fell while engaging in a foot pursuit
2 officers died in an other type of duty-related accident when they were struck by a commuter train.
Many activists have called Gamaldi out for his inflated numbers. Whatever methodology he is using leaves many scratching their heads. However, considering his use of provocative language, it should come as no surprise that he would take it a step further and inflate the numbers. His narrative falls flat when looking at the actual numbers and many are left wondering why he hasn’t been called out or corrected by his superiors; or if his words are being questioned at all.
It’s clear why he and others like him do these things. They have found clear success in their careers as their respective unions push them up the ladder granting them the power of influence over policy. They have no reason to stop promoting lies when they continue to be advanced to higher positions as they generate wealth and authority.
Where We Go From Here
One thing is certain, the antagonistic language used by police union heads across the country not only puts citizens at risk but officers as well. The concept of oversight committees are put in place for the benefit of the public’s trust and to increase officer safety. While Gamaldi preaches building bridges, his rhetoric is the antithesis of doing just that. His counterparts are equally guilty of promoting a very dangerous narrative that puts the lives of innocent civilians at risk.
This is not to detract from the dangers of the job. We all know of the inherent risks police officers face every single day. Solving the current problems within our law enforcement apparatus will take work from both sides of the equation. But we can not be dismissive of one another as police are towards activists who speak out on these issues. There are major problems in the way policing is done in America that must be addressed. Using hateful and divisive language as a counter-argument will do nothing to solve those problems.
Whether police unions and officers like what we have to say is irrelevant. These are issues that Americans have been asking to be addressed for decades. The best way to address them is by bringing more citizens into the fold. That’s why Black Lives Matter was founded. The idea is to bring people in from all walks of life to help approach these problems. To bring these issues to the forefront of the conversation so that we can all come together to find the solutions we need.
No one wants to increase the risks for officers on the street, but we also want to mitigate the risks for citizens who encounter officers, particularly racist cops. Yes, they are out there. More than most would like to admit. In fact, many police chiefs and officers in leadership positions have troublesome racist backgrounds. As their prejudice becomes normalized in their respective departments, it trickles down to the rank and file members eventually impacting how people of color are treated by police. That treatment results in distrust and animosity which is then exacerbated by more antagonizing rhetoric such as what we hear from Gamaldi.
It seems that the solutions are somewhat simple. But until police departments begin properly vetting potential cadets and conducting reviews of current personnel we can not achieve any meaningful change. In addition, we need more community oversight of police departments pushing for transparency and holding officers who commit acts of misconduct to account. We then need citizens to be more involved in the contract negotiations between police unions and our cities. We can not continue to grant them rights not afforded to everyday Americans.
Abuse of power and official oppression by way of police brutality, murder, rape, theft, lying under oath (testilying), planting evidence and outright corruption can no longer be hidden from the public. The main reason for the culture of misconduct in our police lies within the rules that are put in place during contract negotiations preventing officers from being held accountable.
We all need to be more aware.
Many of us know of the inherent risks that come with speaking out about these issues. They are major issues of concern with my family, friends, and colleagues. We are all aware of the systems used to track and silence our voices by law enforcement. If prominent names such as Malcolm Jenkins can come under fire and be arrested for speaking out, then little people like me could easily disappear. It’s an unfortunate but very grim reality we face.
The goal here is to educate, not just civilians but the Gamaldis of the law enforcement community as well. To teach everyone that divisive language serves no one if we are to have very real discussions about these issues. To explain that the rhetoric used by the police side of the equation puts all of us, including officers, at greater risk and it needs to stop.
There is no doubt that this article will make the rounds with the Fraternal Order of Police and other police organizations, as these pieces always do. However, it is done with the hope that they begin to understand the damage they are doing and maybe they’ll adopt policies and language that will help undo some of that damage. I doubt it.
The typical knee-jerk reaction to articles addressing these issues is to attack and threaten the author behind the work. Just ask Malcolm Jenkins, Colin Kaepernick, Beyonce, Shaun King, Lee Merritt, and the many smaller voices who have been targeted. It’s no joke. The work is sometimes scary. But it has to be done.
If not us, who?